Above Aspens in Santa Fe

Finding Peace In Nature

Above Aspens in Santa FeThe concept of communing with nature was something that I didn’t fully comprehend when I was a child. I mean I certainly recognized the beauty of nature, I just never knew how important it was to me until I became an adult. It is in hindsight that I realize how integral nature was to my experience as a child growing up in the beautiful small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Most of my favorite activities took place outside.

Rachel Peace GirlAs a young child I loved walking on paths from house to house through the woods. And I had special hiding place nestled among moss where I put a box of knickknacks that I had collected. The objects were important to me, but what was even more important was the magical location of the beautiful soft and fuzzy emerald green moss tucked under a downed tree trunk. Playing in the enclosure (a grassy area surrounded by bushes and trees) at the school was another favorite pastime of my friends and mine. And as a teenager, I spent nearly every evening hanging out at the bench near the store. Yes, that time was for social reasons, but it was also wonderful for me because it was outside in nature.

Fast-forward to my college years in Berkeley, California (where I met Andy) and Santa Cruz, California (where I did graduate work) and the great outdoors continued to be important to my livelihood. Most of my most poignant memories are with Andy in nature. Although Berkeley is a small city, the campus and surrounds are spectacular and filled with regal and fragrant eucalyptus trees. The campus is in the Berkeley hills so there are wondrous vistas everywhere. The rose garden and nearby parks gave me plenty of opportunities to be one with nature (though I have to admit that I was quite busy as a serious student so much of my time was spent in class and libraries.) I lived in a cooperative house with Andy and one of the key moments getting to know Andy took place on a house trip to Angel Island. As we hiked around, we talked and talked while taking in the beautiful sights. I started to fall in love with Andy among the trees and along the water edge of the San Francisco Bay area.

Rach and Andy in Santa CruzIn Santa Cruz I lived in several places, but all where within a short distance to the beach. I could easily enjoy the soothing sound of the waves crashing at times and lapping at other times along the shoreline. Unfortunately, again I was often so immersed in my schoolwork that I didn’t look up enough to take in all the splendor of nature. But I felt it nonetheless. UC, Santa Cruz is nestled among redwoods and the majesty of the trees is palpable. Simply walking from building to building and you can’t miss the energy around you. But even still I hadn’t yet fully embodied how nature impacted me.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhen Andy and I were traveling cross-country while I took a break from graduate school, we met a National Park Service ranger who led a session among the trees and rocks. When she asked the group, “Have you ever had an experience with a rock?” We chuckled and loved her seriousness and wonder about the rocks. We tucked that moment away and over the years have come to realize that we both have had numerous experiences with rocks and trees and nature in general. I even spent time literally tree-hugging in Sebastopol, California. Again the stately redwood trees served as a backdrop to my experience with nature. I was in an immersive leadership program that was held at a retreat center in the forest. Besides any number of amazing self-reflective and personal growth exercises, we spent a fair amount of time with the trees and up in them. We did high ropes courses where I climbed up redwood trees and did various leaps and tight rope walks while harnessed in a belay. I had many talks with the trees and I think they listened. I know I gave them regular hugs. Yes, I am that kind of crazy girl.

Labyrinth of our woodsNow that I live in Cold Spring, Andy and I are lucky to be in a house on a dirt road living among trees and streams and tons of rocks. And though we still do enjoy cities, having lived in New York City for many years, and still enjoy visiting cities when we travel, more and more we are finding that we are at our most serene state when we are communing with nature, having plenty of experiences with rocks.

xoxo Rachel

My Life Journey Is To Question Everything

Rachel in Hawaii 1981We are all on a journey through our own experience of life. Lately I have been experiencing a great sense that an important part of my developmental path is to reveal how much I connect with questions of mind, body and soul. Call it spiritual, call it whatever you like, I am outing myself as someone who is woo-woo (if you haven’t already figured that out from my other blogs ☺).

Growing up I never felt comfortable with religious inquiries because I was never educated in it so it felt foreign and made up to me. From my limited exposure I though religion only meant that you believed in some humanoid male figure in the sky called god. As I understood, it was not grounded in human experience. That made no sense to me and so I never explored religion in any shape or form. However, as an adult I drifted towards awe and wonder of the natural world. And my academic interest included intuition and heart-focused thought. There is no doubt I was drawn to my career as a psychologist because of my interest in how and why we perceive and interact with the world the way we do. I always questioned. I have always been spiritual even if I didn’t identify it as such. It’s not religion. It’s my huge need to keep learning and exploring what it means to be human, what it means to think, feel and experience our conscious life.

My beloved tarot cardsAs part of my reflection and exploration of my spiritual life journey, I am seeking clues in my past. And there are many connections throughout the years. Early ones are fainter in my memory but it should not be a surprise that I wanted Tarot cards which my mom gave when I was about eight. I adored those cards and kept them safe all these years. I wish I still had my Ouija board. In terms of practices and beliefs it is clear that peace and equality were important to me from an early age. Children’s liberation, recycling, woman’s equality and peace marches are anchors in my childhood memories.

Marrying Susan and KevinMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was an important book to me when I started college. And though I probably could articulate in my twenties that my personal search for meaning was through my academic and scientific psychology work, at its core, my search has always been deeply philosophical and spiritual. In my thirties I was so focused on my career that I have few memories of seeking spiritual knowledge. I did, however, have numerous moments of questioning the purpose of it all. I felt great dissatisfaction with work even though there was much to enjoy. I had existential crises often. That led me to life coaching—a way to connect my longing for personal life meaning with work to help others. As part of my training as a life coach I was exposed to Native American and Buddhist philosophies. My training as a celebrant more recently brought ceremony and ritual into focus for me and stretched me in new directions. All wonderful additions to my quest for more discoveries about my humanity.

Anubis and HorusThis past year my journey into veganism has reconnected me to my great love of animals. And I feel closer to all of nature through nourishing my body with plant foods of the earth. It is all connected and feels so grounded and on target for what I am looking for. Woo-woo implies a more frivolous and airy image and that is not it at all for me. Yes, I do love to go up into the clouds to get the big-picture view of things. I love to ponder and hypothesize and wander and explore in my head and my heart. And yet it is very grounded in the earth and in the natural world. I certainly did not choose Love Beauty Peace as my mantra without reason. Those three images are very clear aspects of how my spiritual view of the world manifests. Love connects me with everything including other beings and myself. Beauty is my awe as I energetically connect, often through gaze, at the wonders of the world. And peace is both my immense desire to see peace among all people as well as that inner calm that I feel when I experience gratitude for my life. Those concepts have not just been with me as an adult. They guided me every step of my life through my formal and personal education.

Rachel Peace GirlAs I see it now, I have always had a deep need to find personal meaning and that is in itself so very fulfilling to me. Even as I grasp that I may never fully understand and will always be looking, it is in that practice of my own growth that I am so deeply rewarded. There is absolutely no end goal in my mind. I don’t really care as much about the absolute truth as I do about the relative truth for me. The truth as I can make sense of it. The truth as it reveals itself to me. Even if I try to articulate what I believe, it doesn’t really matter whether others understand my perspective. Even if I could articulate it well enough for others to understand, it is my view alone, just as your view is yours alone. Sure it is possible that you were taught a particular worldview. We all were. But even if you followed a strict canon, it still is your interpretation and that brings in your own personal slant. I am getting greater comfort with the concept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that I believe specifically, but rather how I comport myself in this world, how I am, how I treat others, including animals and the natural world. Love, beauty, peace fits me well and I am realizing that I came out of my mom’s womb with those words scribed into my body, heart and soul.

xoxo Rachel

Kitties Commuting

Horus in a shoeboxI have such wonderful memories of bringing up our two cats, Horus and Anubis with my husband Andy. They completed our family of four. Our cat Anubis, who is nearing sweet sixteen, is getting very close to the end of his life. We had to say goodbye to his brother Horus five years ago and we still miss him and all the silly noises and stunts he did. Horus loved to squeeze into the smallest box possible. And he would throw his body on the ground and make the sweetest sound as he rolled over to expose his tummy. Anubis’s main stunt—until his senior years—was jumping for his scrunchy ball. We called it his Pelé move. I have a movie of him somewhere that I can’t seem to find.

AnubisWe adopted the two of them from Little Orphan Animals in Peekskill, NY though at the time we were living in New York City and only stayed in Cold Spring, NY on the weekends. I first met our kittens at their foster home in Putnam Valley, NY where they were staying with their five siblings after being rescued from the side of the road. The foster home was fairly large and had many different rooms filled with cats and dogs of different ages and types. They even had a separate room upstairs with a screened-in porch for several cats with feline leukemia. That room was well isolated from the others to prevent spreading of the disease.

Horus sleeping on my workThe newest addition to the foster home was a litter of mewing kittens. They were only about a week old so they were little itsy bitsy things and easily fit into the palm of my hands. I got to pick out our two kittens and I selected Horus for his beautiful orange coat and Anubis for his loud purr. Anubis is still our purr-bucket. Horus was named after the Egyptian god of the sun and Anubis after the god of the underworld.  Egyptians idolized their cats as I obviously do.

Andy and Anubis readingOnce the kittens were a couple of weeks older, the foster parents brought them to us in Cold Spring and did a home visit to make certain we would be good parents and had a safe home in which to care for them. I love that they took animal adoptions so seriously—we certainly did. Initially we kept Horus and Anubis in our guest room in Cold Spring so that they didn’t have too big of a place to contend with. But we had to get back to the city for work so thus began kitty commutation.

Mom and Dad and their grandkitties Anubis and HorusAnubis and Horus were small enough that they easily fit into a single cat carrier. And that was a good thing because come Monday morning we grabbed our bags and our kittens and took the train to the city. Our city apartment was small enough that they could go anywhere though we tried at first to keep them out of our bedroom at night. That didn’t last long. Little scratching paws at our door was enough for us to cave. Our cats slept with us from then on. Have you seen Simon’s Cat video?  Well, that just about captures our life with our kittens in the morning though they never hit us with a bat.

Anubis and MeKitty commutation continued each week: to Cold Spring by train on Fridays after work and to the city on Monday mornings. The kittens seemed to take it in stride. They were wee things and the cat carrier was still a palace to them—for a while anyway. In a few months we graduated to two cat carriers, which made things a lot more difficult. At the time Andy was working really long hours so sometimes I was carrying two cat carriers by myself on an earlier train.

Baby Horus and Anubis snugglingNot that I am complaining—but then Horus and Anubis did. They decided that they really didn’t like the train. The sounds that emerged from their carriers caused quite a stir among the Metro-North passengers. It was time for Andy and me to graduate to car commuting.

Our Toyota TercelIn 1995 we had bought a used 1989 Toyota Tercel in Freehold, NJ while we were visiting my parents. That was just before we bought our Cold Spring house and well before we adopted the kittens. Until the kitty train commuting got out of hand, we simply kept the Tercel at the Cold Spring train station parking lot during the week—for free! We talked to the village police who said that it was no problem leaving the car there because they regularly checked the station. They wrote down our license plate and phone number just in case. Can you imagine that happening now? That certainly is worlds ago. Now the station is all paid parking and the MTA police definitely do not have our phone number.

Anubis can jump high!Anubis and Horus continued to grow and we continued to travel back and forth and back and forth between Cold Spring and New York by car for about ten years. In 2001 we bought a new Toyota Rav4 so Anubis and Horus had pretty nice digs during a few years of their commuting. Horus was always pretty laid back about cruising in the car. Anubis—not so much. Anubis never found anything good about car travel. But fortunately we have been living full-time in Cold Spring for some time now and kitty commuting—and work commuting in general—is a thing of our past.

Babies in a basketI am so grateful that I had a couple of years full-time with Horus by my side—sometimes in my lap—while I was working from home. And I love that I can be with Anubis all day now. I will miss him so much. Anubis and Horus will forever be my little boys.

xoxo Rachel

Andy & Rach at VLA

The Expansive Sky of New Mexico

Andy & Rach in Santa FeAfter way too long of not getting away, Andy and I finally went on a vacation this month. We went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a location that we first visited when we took a month-long road trip together when we were dating—32 years ago (see The summer of love—cross-country ramblin’ with my man in 1985.)

Andy in the Santa Fe mountainsWe have been back to Santa Fe several times since then and I always have the same reaction. I absolutely love to visit but cannot imagine living there. I am most definitely an east coast girl and tend to prefer the flora and fauna of the northeast. However, there is nothing quite like the expansive sky of New Mexico.

Ceramic balls at JackalopeWhen we visit Santa Fe, we spend as much time in the greater surrounding areas as we do in the actual town of Santa Fe (though I certainly do love everything in town including museums, southwestern food, jewelry shopping in the plaza and perusing the store called Jackalope).  This trip was no different. We drove north of Santa Fe into the mountains for the spectacular views of aspens and panoramic views of New Mexico. We drove south of town to visit the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Rach & Andy at Tent RocksThe hike in this National park is one of our favorite destinations when we go to Santa Fe. The last time we tried to visit in 2010, the dirt road out to the park—which runs through a reservation—was being paved, so it was closed. We were certainly happy that it was open on this trip seven years later. Presumably they finished the paving many years ago 🙂

Rachel Andy Jane PaulBig sky, small world. Andy and I were just at the start of the trail up to the top of the park when we stopped to take pictures of where we were headed. I turned around as two people approached and then exclaimed, “Jane!” One of my best friends from high school, who I haven’t seen in about seven years, was hiking with her husband Paul on this same trail! Sure there are only two trails in this particular park, but there aren’t that many people at the park at any given time. And what is the likelihood of meeting someone you know on vacation who lives in a different state? It is indeed a small world.

Tent RocksWhat a treat it was to catch up as we were standing there in the desert. We let them go ahead of us because I knew we would take our sweet time climbing the trail (I experience altitude sickness). Then we met up with them again at the top of the monument and continued to talk and take pics. Even though we were in an unusual location, our conversation was as if we had just seen each other two days ago. What I love about Jane and Paul is that Andy and I can easily take up our conversation anytime. The serendipity of that meeting was certainly a highlight of the trip, helped by the dramatic backdrop of the expansive New Mexico sky.

The VLAAnd though most of the expansive views we witnessed on this trip were of natural formations, there was one man-made view that was equally spectacular. We drove three hours south of Santa Fe to visit the Very Large Array.  The VLA is made up of 28 telescopes that each have an 82-foot wide dish with 8 receivers tucked inside. The telescopes continuously collect cosmic radio waves for research purposes like finding black holes and discovering ice on Mercury and all those kind of fun things—well fun to me! Astronomy is most definitely an area I have always loved.

Andy & Rach at VLAThe telescopes are arranged in one of four configurations that range from a bit over a half of a mile to over twenty miles apart. They are moved into their locations on specially made rail-tracks. Luckily when we visited they were in a tight formation so we could easily see all of them. When they move, they move slowly and smoothly in tandem. Andy commented that they look as if they are dancing. Quite an amazing sight to behold! I feel so grateful that Andy and I both appreciate the beauty of natural and man-made structures and share in these amazing experiences. The thrilling expansive sky of New Mexico will always be a favorite spot of ours in the world.

xoxo Rachel

Longing For Childhood Friends

Rachel's Birthday Party July 1969I woke up this morning very lonely. Although when I had that feeling I was snuggled closely to Andy and my kitty, Anubis, was settled on top of me purring away. But nonetheless, I felt lonely. Images of my childhood friends from Roosevelt, NJ haunted my dreams last night and I awoke longing to see them and have long conversations with them. Long and deep conversations with them. Sure, we had conversations when we were kids. I remember some of the talks got to a deeper level though many were everyday conversations. It didn’t matter because simply my friend’s company and my ability to be with them and talk about anything was so important to me. But now, I envision heart-felt connected conversations with them as adults as if I inhibited my childhood existence with my adult mind. I long to talk to Peri and Elan and Dawn and Kirsten and Nathalie. I long to stroll down the streets of my hometown to one of my friend’s houses. To be able to walk into their home at any time unannounced.   To be able to hang out whenever and wherever. Because that is what you do when you are a kid in a small town. That is what you do with good friends who aren’t so busy with life and work and everything that is so planned these days.

Deep connections with friends are different as adults. If you are in a couple relationship and are lucky—like me—you have deep meaningful connection and conversations with your spouse. I am grateful that I have that. And yet I want and need more. I want the connection to girlfriends with whom I can connect without having to schedule days in advance to meet, or schedule weeks in a advance to get coffee together, or schedule even for just a phone call! Spontaneity is difficult. The complexity of everyday commitments gets in the way of relationships. Perhaps this is the reality of adulthood. Perhaps this is the reality of these times in general so therefore also true for kids. We are so busy. Our access to community is so structured.

I live in a small town again like when I was a child. However, I am on a dirt road not directly in the village so walking over to someone’s house is not so easily accomplished. And even if I was in town, could I just stop by someone’s place? I lived in New York City for many years and in a way I felt very connected though again, no one stopped by just to chat. I find that as I read books that take place in small towns—of course they are deeply romanticized stories of big families with gatherings of many generations and lots of friends—I feel deep longing. That is the essential word here. Longing. It is a simple word and yet it conveys an intense emotional feeling of needing to be seen and needed and wanted and connected to others. A yearning, and aching, a desire that I feel deep in my core of being. I itch to wander over to one of my childhood friend’s house and plop down on their couch and talk. I miss you.

XOXO Rachel

The Magic of Mom and Dad Celebrating 60 Years Together!

Diana & BobThis year is already turning out to be a positive and joyful year. Last week my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. It is hard to imagine that so many years have passed, but not hard to imagine that my parents are together and in love after all these years. Here is their story. At least here is their story as they told it to me many, many years ago. I could ask them now to repeat it to me, but what’s the fun of that? I prefer the version that I have cultivated over the years in my head. I am sure that I have at least some of it right.

My dad went to MIT as part of the GI bill, having served as a naval communication officer in WWII. His amateur ham operating experience in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri came in handy in the Navy. After getting his electrical engineering degree at MIT, he went to New York City and worked on any number of interesting projects like cathode tubes and other technical stuff.  My dad had been painting (and writing?—I don’t really know when he started writing) since the war and he decided to pursue his art by getting an esthetics degree at NYU. One of his roommates in the city went home on weekends to visit his family in Roosevelt, New Jersey. My dad, then 24 years old, joined his roommate to get out of the city every now and again. And that is where my dad first saw my mom. She was a 13-year-old dark haired petite beauty playing table tennis (ping pong just doesn’t sound right for the 50s) when my dad couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Fortunately not much more happened at that point because she was so young.

My mom finished high school very young (those days skipping grades was not uncommon) and she went to Bard College at age 16. She got her bachelors degree in dance and then went to New York City to dance professionally. She joined the Henry Street Playhouse and studied and performed modern dance under Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis.

Mom and DadMy parents continued to see each other and actually lived together for a short time before they were married—if I remember correctly. Then on January 13, 1955, just a month before my mom was of legal age to marry (that would be 21 in those days), they were wedded. With the approval of her legal guardian—her mom—my mom and dad got married at the courthouse in New York City. My parents lived in a couple of places including Greenwich Village and the infamous “cold water flat” in the Lower East Side—way before it was so fashionable to live there. Then they moved to Roosevelt, New Jersey, were it all began, to start our family.

Community of family circa 1960sRoosevelt was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s. Because it was my mom’s hometown, I had the luxury of having my grandmother and great grandmother living just a street away. And I also had a kind of second grandmother, my great aunt Ellie, who lived just around the corner. I loved to drop by their houses and get fed yummy food. Roosevelt became the spot for all of our extended family to visit for holidays and other events. I have fond memories of my many cousins and aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles and more partying in Aunt Ellie and Uncle Jack’s back yard under the cherry trees. That is the definition of community to me. I really haven’t had anything close to that since I was a kid.

Mueller Family Late 1970sMy mom and dad raised us in such a wonderful way and our house was filled with love, books, art, music and the political activism of the 60s. We even went on peace marches in DC. And together, my mom and dad were also puppeteers.  My mom became interested in women’s rights and decided to go back to school to get a bachelors degree in history before she went on to get her law degree, both at Rutgers. She was one of the only woman law students there and she got to study with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also probably the only female professor.

My dad worked at RCA for a number of years as an engineer and inventor (he holds several patents) and then at Bell Labs as a technical writer. Once my mom began practicing as an attorney, my dad became a househusband—again they were trendy before their time. Although these days we would have said he was a stay-at-home-dad. Throughout, he was always working as an artist and writer and always considered the intersection between science and art.  I loved woodworking with him in his basement workshop (see The Wonder Of Woodworking).

Mom & Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary!My mom worked at The Legal Aid Society and then went out with a partner before she left and worked on her own legal practice. She was an early female entrepreneur, a feminist and worked on the counsel for the Black Panthers. Her work and perspective had a huge impact on me. I read Ms. Magazine from its inception and I have never wavered in calling myself a feminist and seeking equality in the workplace. Looking back I can see that that both my mom and my dad have had a tremendous influence on my whole life journey from education and political views to need for right-brain and left-brain work. I love structure and spontaneity, I am equally comfortable with business and science and arts and writing. I thank them both for that. And I thank them both for showing how to love and stay married for 60 years.

XOXO Rachel

The summer of love—cross-country ramblin’ with my man in 1985

They said if we could manage to not hate each other after spending the entire summer in a car driving cross-country, we surely were bound for marriage. And so begins the tale of our road trip. While I was in grad school, I desperately needed a break from my studies and decided to take the summer off. Generally speaking that is unheard of while you are working on your PHD and my advisor wasn’t too happy about it. Nonetheless, I knew that it was important for me so I went ahead with big plans. Andy—my boyfriend at the time—and I decided to take a long road trip across the country.

SunocoI have gone back and forth about what I feel about road trips over the years. I hadn’t really been on many road trips before that summer. There was the time when my parents and my brother and I drove in our green monster—our pastel-green van—to visit Grandma Dora in Florida when I was very young. I recall enjoying that childhood trip though I am not sure if my parents would say I was a happy camper. But I was game for a long trip with Andy and it was a cost-effective method to see the sites of the country. My parents made it even more cost-effective by giving us their Sunoco gas credit card and paying for all the gas we needed.

Good thing my parents gave us that credit card because at one point it turned out we needed to use it for another purchase at Sunoco—a new car battery. Yes, we had quite a few amusing and some not so amusing ventures on that trip. The car-battery tale worked out fine in the end and I remain grateful to my parents that they bankrolled the gas and the car battery.

Mount RushmoreWe began our trip from the west coast in Santa Cruz, California where I was in graduate studies. With maps from CAA (California Automobile Association) in hand and a pink highlighted route that we had marked before we left, we took off on the defining road trip of our lives. Because our plans were for a round-trip across the country, the route we selected was across the northern part of the US outbound and the southern states on our return. Along the way we intended to see important sites that we hadn’t visited before—like Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park—and cities that perhaps we might live in one day—like New York, Seattle and Chicago. Our destination when we left California was my parent’s place in New Jersey where we knew we could remain and regroup for some time before heading westward.

I could probably write a novel-length memoir of the trip, we accomplished so many firsts and we experienced so many highs (and some lows). Several things remain vivid in my mind all these 29 years later. We thought to bring a bunch of long and gripping novels to read on the never-ending stretches of interstate highways. What a great idea! While one of us was driving, the other read aloud to pass the time. Not only did it pass the time, but also I don’t think I have ever enjoyed reading a book more. We took our time and discussed the characters and the plot live while we read together. There was Travels with Charlie, Lust for Life, and The Fountainhead. (For years afterwards, Andy read books to me in bed but we gave up when I kept on falling asleep—his voice just lulled me into slumber.)

About the size of our tentEach day we made plans for where we would stop and camp over night. CAA also supplied us with a book of camping locations of all varieties from private to park-operated. Remember, this was before anyone had mobile Internet access—actually this was before there was much in the way of the Internet in general, let alone mobile cellphones and Internet. When we arrived at the intended camping area, we’d give it a quick look to see if it seemed safe and then put up our teeny tiny backpacker’s tent for two that we purchased at Sierra Designs in Berkeley. We certainly could have used a larger tent since we had a car to lug it in but—no—we were somehow cooler for using the modest Flashlight II. Setting up a tent every night for weeks on end made us experts at getting that thing up in no time at all, even if it was dark out. Most of the places we stayed were good enough and not very memorable. But several spots stick out in my memory as simply amazing—and several as truly horrendous.

One of the most magical places we camped was in Big Sky country—Montana. We found a small National Forest campsite and pitched our tent as usual. Because it was so remote, there were plenty of signs posted that warned of bears. So we took the suggested precautions and made sure that food was secured in the trunk of our car (we didn’t need to stow the food up a tree as we would have if we were actually backpacking). Even with no food present we were visited by a bear that night and in that moment I really wished we had a larger tent—actually a larger tent made out of metal is more like it. We stayed absolutely still lying in our tent and fortunately the bear wandered off. That was excitement I hadn’t expected. What I also hadn’t expected was the beauty of the surroundings. Big Sky is such a great term for Montana—the sky is immense and breathtaking. And that campground wins as my best memory of a beautiful spot in the world.

Some of our other camping experiences weren’t so lovely. We encountered a stretch of rain, rain, rain and after pitching the already wet tent for several nights in a row during downpours, we hit the el cheapo motel—again on Mom and Dad’s dime. And then there were the campgrounds in the Texas area that scared the crap out of us so we kept on driving. Though I do have a fond memory of armadillos making a racket looking for food in the metal garbage cans somewhere in Texas. I think I managed to snap a cute photo of one of the critters. What strange beasts they are. But all in all I’d say we did pretty well with our campgrounds, with great thanks to our CAA campground booklet.

BeignetsWe are foodies, so one of the things that is kind of surprising but I guess not unexpected given our poor financial state was that we didn’t eat at many of the wonderful road food spots available in the hinterlands of the US. Most of the time we bought groceries and had such marvelous—well marvelous when you are hungry and on the road—and easy to transport items like bread and cheese. Although it is true that even bread was taken to new heights when we toasted our bagels over an open fire in Yellowstone while it was flurrying out in an unusual July storm. (That fluke cold front was also when our car battery went kaput.) When we did enjoy a meal out, breakfast was the choice. My fav memory is of the cheapest breakfast to be found in a little diner in East Madison, Wisconsin. Of course we did eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans and couldn’t miss the shakes and fries at The Varsity drive-in in Atlanta so food was not entirely ignored.

Dining in local joints while traveling gets greater attention these days and has for some time. But of all the trips I have taken with Andy over the years, our cross-country road trip remains most vivid of my memories and serves as an inflection point for our relationship. Yes, of course they were right—I did marry Andy and as that ramblin’ summer trip with my man proved, we were well suited for each other then. And we remain well suited and as in love today—if not more—as when we were young lovers on the road.

XOXO Rachel

Perfect Day

BeforeI love the song “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. I think I first got to know the song really well during the 2010 Winter Olympics when it was used in a promo where the snowboarder Shaun White is flying through the air. Yes, that looks like it would be the most perfect exhilarating experience soaring through the air and gliding on the snow. But that isn’t the kind of perfect day I am speaking about per se (though I probably would have a perfect day if I floated in the air on a snowboard as naturally as Shaun).

The perfect day I have in mind has to do with much more down to earth activities, literally. This past Saturday was one such perfect day. It was perfect first because it was a day spent completely with my love Andy. And another mark for perfection was the warm weather—as it turns out only a glimpse into the future of spring warmth because the next day it was frigid again. And it was perfect because we were in the garden all day enjoying mother earth. We finally had an opportunity to get into the garden to do early spring cleanup because most of the snow has melted (though not all).

The earth that was revealed was more ravaged than usual from the blistery winter we survived. So we got to work and nipped back overgrowth, snipped away dead growth from last year’s blooms and raked up all the miscellaneous detritus of the winter. We dragged leaves and branches and rocks and gravel and weeds to our garden pile in the woods. And we even groomed the Japanese maple and Hibiscus so that they will look perfect later in the summer. At the close of our session, we surveyed our work and beheld the before and after views of the garden. Yes, that was good enough to make it perfect, but it didn’t end there.

Amazing Yellow Bush Daisy!After a quick shower and a snack, we went to Stonecrop Gardens (http://www.stonecrop.org) for their early spring open house for members. Although very muddy, their outside gardens were already revealing some early signs of growth. Most of the spectacle, however, was in their conservatory and hothouses. We signed in and picked up the sheet that listed every plan on display with numbers so that we could follow along—all 627 of them! From tropical and unusual to just your run-of-the-mill garden plants like violets or begonia, the display was amazing (though nothing very ordinary about seeing violets or begonia in March). Yes, the perfect day continued.

To top it off, we had tickets to see for one of our favorite musicians, James Maddock (http://jamesmaddock.net/) at the Towne Crier Cafe (http://www.townecrier.com/). This is the third time we went to see James at the Towne Crier Cafe but this time the event was closer to us because they moved to nearby Beacon, NY. The venue serves dinner as well so we were seated at a table for two in a great center spot near the stage (the place is small enough that all the seats are great). After a little wine, a lot of great food and an abundance of shared conversation with my husband, we enjoyed the concert. As I listened to James sing, I felt so lucky. With the words of Lou Reed in mind and the actual voice of James Maddock in my ears—what a perfect day!

XOXO Rachel

Relating to “Relationship”

Dad and MeThis past weekend I went to a 2-day intensive course on coaching people in relationships and my first words are “Wow!”  Now, it is certainly the case that every coaching and leadership course that I have taken from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) or related group elicited the “Wow!” response from me. But I think this one was a different type of “Wow!”  The course was held by ORSC, an offshoot of CTI so there is some overlap in the style of training.  Lots of experiential learning, lots of immediate connection and closeness to the others in the course and lots of emotion and introspection!  But what I hadn’t really thought about so much before going to the class was that relationship is most of what life is about.  We are in relationship to our parents, children, spouse, friends, and any and all business colleagues.  And guess what, we are even in relationship to ourselves and—this might seem to be pushing it—we are in relationship with things like money, food or you name it.  So the “wow!” factor is that this course applies to all of my life and everyone’s life.

I signed up for the class because as I have been working with couples designing their wedding ceremonies, it became obvious to me that I had a wonderful opportunity to coach them about their relationship.  For over a decade I have been coaching individuals in business and life coaching.  Being a celebrant is in so many ways just an extension of my coaching work.  I already ask the couples to explore their relationship so that I can capture their connection in the written words of the ceremony.  How fortunate that I get to work with couples when they are just beginning their married life together.  My hope is that I’ll get them thinking about their relationship in a way that leads to them creating a more fulfilling life together.

My FamilyWe take for granted so much in relationship and I find that rarely in life do we step back and actually discuss the relationship.  Sure we talk all the time with whoever we are in relationship with.  Yet for most people it is a rarity that they set aside time to talk “about their relationship”.  Some couples do that naturally but most often the only ones who take a step back and look at the big picture are those who are having troubles in the relationship and seek council.  I suppose it is not a startling concept to consider talking about the relationship before there is great conflict.  Perhaps what is startling is how few couples (and I use the term couples to refer to ANY relationship) do that.

So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that everyone have a look at the relationships they have.  Make time to have conversations with whoever you are in relationship and you will be greatly rewarded with understanding and connection (and love depending on the affiliation).  If you are having big conflict, consider having a coach or therapist facilitate.  I certainly plan to have those conversations now that I have some relationship coaching training under my belt.  At the very least, I plan to have a heartfelt conversation with myself about what I want and need in my relationship with life.

XOXO Rachel

Tales of the City—Tales of Community

Kidd Hall community 1984While I was in College at UC Berkeley in the early 80s, we read the San Francisco Chronicle in our cooperative house in North Berkeley. My friend at the time (now my sweet husband) Andy read the column, Tales of the City, a fictionalized serial by Armistead Maupin without fail. I read it from time to time but I really got into it when in 1993 the TV mini-series of the same name appeared. Andy and I were married by then and living in New York City. I was glued to the show and could hardly wait for each installment. I was bereft when it was over if I can use such a strong word to describe the relationship I felt for the characters in the program. Even thinking about it I get a strange almost queasy feeling in my stomach and as I try to uncover why, I think the key is “loss” and probably as in “loss of community”. I have had the same unsettled feeling in my gut several—only several—other times.

One of the most remarkable memories of that feeling was when I was in jury duty in Manhattan in the early 90s.  Like clockwork (before the NY Jury Reform of 1996 jury duty was indeed clockwork every two years because the jury pool was so small due to a long list of exempt professionals) I would receive my notice to show up for jury duty at the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Going to jury duty turned out to be an amazing experience for me in a number of ways. Fairly new to living in New York City at the time, it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a different part of the city from where I worked (Midtown) and lived (Upper West Side). Lunchtime, I used every second possible to explore neighboring Chinatown and Little Italy. Food was a big draw and I had wonderful soups and noodles and cannoli and yummy ice cream in flavors that were new to me at the time like red bean and green tea.

Medicine Wheels community in Sebastopol, CABut what jury duty in New York City really left me with was an astonishing group experience. Because I was so interested in the jury process and also such a “goodie two shoes” that I would never have even considered trying to say something during “voire dire” to be excused, I was always selected for a case (and I still am to this day). One such case was a drug possession and sales trial. As the juror was selected, I didn’t really take too much in about each potential juror. But when we were then whisked away to the jury room to prepare to hear the testimony, I began an intense and speedy induction into a community of jurors.

As we went around the table and formally introduced ourselves, the interesting and creative people in the group amazed me. We had an opera singer, a professor, a music producer, and a number of business people from different disciplines including myself—to name a few. I felt an instant rapport with almost everyone and we had what turned out to be a week-long intense relationship. We went to lunch together, we talked of life (but not the case until deliberation) and we became so close that when I said goodbye, I felt such a painful loss I had rarely felt before and infrequently since. I am pretty certain that feeling was a visceral emotion of loss of connection. As awful as it can be, I think it is also wonderful because it means that I was so closely connected to a group of individuals that its loss was almost overwhelming.

Community of family circa 1960sIn today’s New York Times Book Review I receive word that Armistead Maupin’s concluding series of books comes to a close with his final novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Though I have never read the book series (perhaps it is time) just reading the review brought all these thoughts of community and connection flooding to me. It brought back memories of the amazing community of dear friends I lived with at Kidd Hall at Berkeley.  And it reminds me that it is time to foster and create more community in my life, even if the ache of loss is a possibility.

XOXO Rachel